Panthera tigris




Felis tigris (Linnaeus, 1758), Asia. Five subspecies survive: the Bengal tiger (Panthera t. tigris) in India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, Myanmar and Nepal; the Amur tiger (Panthera t. altaica) in Russia, China, and North Korea; the south China tiger (Panthera t. amoyensis) in China; the Sumatran tiger (Panthera t. sumatrae) in Sumatra; and the Indo-Chinese tiger (Panthera t. corbetti) in China and Southeast Asia. Three other subspecies have become extinct since the 1950s.


French: Tigre; German: Tiger; Spanish: Tigre.


Length 75-150 in (190-310 cm); tail 28-40 in (70-100 cm); weight 140-670 lb (65-306 kg). The largest cat, with an unmistakable reddish brown to yellow-ochre coat, with black stripes and white belly. Indian and Russian tigers are larger than island races. Males have a prominent ruff. White tigers are very rare in the wild, zoo specimens all descend from just two wild animals.


Scattered populations in India, from Bangladesh to Myanmar, and in Sumatra, China, and far eastern Russia.


Varied, including tropical evergreen and deciduous forests, mangrove swamps, tall grass jungles, and temperate coniferous and birch woodland. Dense vegetative cover, sufficient large prey species and water are all essential.

I Panthera tigris I Uncía uncía


Usually solitary but not anti-social, males sometimes associate with females when feeding or resting, as well as to breed. Territorial, both males and females defending territory against intruders of the same sex. Scent-mark to advertise territorial ownership.

Ranges vary with prey density, and are larger for males which need access to females to mate with. In prey-rich parks such as Kanha, India, a female's range may be only 4 mi2 (10 km2) and a male's only 12 mi2 (30 km2), whereas in far eastern Russia females may need 160 mi2 (400 km2), and males up to 400 mi2 (1,000 km2).


Hunts mainly between dusk and dawn, usually alone. Prey includes deer species, wild pigs, and gaur, occasionally young elephants and rhino, and small species such as monkeys, birds, reptiles, and fish. Also carrion. Large prey are stalked from the rear, then attacked in a rush and killed with a throat hold or bite to the back of the neck. Tigers are strong and willing swimmers and will chase deer into water. Prey is dragged to cover after being killed. Hunts are often unsuccessful but large prey is taken about once a week. A tiger may eat up to 90 lb (40 kg) of meat at a time, returning to the kill for up to six days.


Polygamous. Females reach sexual maturity at three to four years, males at four to five. An estrous female advertises by roaring and increased scent-marking. The territorial male retains exclusive breeding rights with females in his territory, so long as he can guard it. A male which takes over territory may kill cubs fathered by another male, bringing the mother into estrus.

Mating may happen 40 times over four days. Tigers are not seasonal breeders, but mating peaks in November-April. Gestation 103 days, litter one to seven, usually two or three. Cubs are born blind and helpless and are kept in hiding for at least a month. Mortality is high, around one third of cubs not surviving their first year, mainly due to infanticide. Cubs are taken to kills at six months but are not independent until at least 18 months.


Classified as Endangered by the IUCN. An estimated population of 100,000 a century ago has shrunk to perhaps fewer than 2,500, and the south China subspecies verges on extinction. Habitat loss, poaching for trophy skins and traditional medicines, and prey depletion due to unsustainable human hunting are the main threats. Conservation measures include preserving habitat "corridors," allowing tigers to move between increasingly fragmented populations, and habitat restoration schemes involving giving incentives to local people to protect land.


International legislation partially banning trade in tiger products has been only partly successful, and there is still huge demand for tiger parts for use in traditional medicine and for skins as trophies in countries such as Japan, Hong Kong, and South Korea. Greatly reduced tiger numbers mean human deaths from attacks are now rarer, but dozens of people are still killed in some areas, especially India's Sunderbans reserve, where fishermen and wood collectors are vulnerable to human-eaters. Tigers also kill livestock, earning retaliation in the form of poisoned carcasses. ♦

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